So, I’m in an unusual position as a TFA teacher: this is my third year of teaching(1) but my second year as a corps member. This means I’m still getting classroom support which I would recommend really for all teachers for the first few years anyway.
In San Antonio, Teach for America’s support model has changed from one in which their mentors — known as MTLD(2) — are no longer content-based. Instead, MTLD are assigned to a geographic section of the city and serves the teachers in that particular community. There are pros and cons to this model(3) but the subject of this post is how TFA staffs itself and not necessarily how to chooses to use that staff. That high school teachers are getting classroom support from someone who taught elementary is not objectionable if that elementary teacher was experienced and accomplished and/or had spent many years mentoring teachers in a variety of areas.
My concern, though, is how TFA recruits its staff responsible for developing good teachers(4) almost exclusively from the ranks of just-completed TFA corps members. I take concern with this for the following reasons:
- After having taught for two years, I know I am in no position to be telling teachers how to teach.
- Having a staff of almost-exclusively TFA teachers exposes teachers to a very limited pedagogical practice. Their lack of experience means they can recite the Teaching As Leadership rubric like Scripture, but they likely don’t understand why or how it works or how it can be adjusted for novel circumstances or when it might be good to jettison a practice altogether. It also means you spend limited time with effective non-TFA teachers, thus reinforcing the idea that TFA must have some monopoly on effective teaching practices.
- As TFA struggles to keep teachers in schools long-term(5), why does it poach its up-and-coming teachers for positions out of schools(6)? It doesn’t seem to me that a program interested in turning schools around should deliberately target its most promising young teachers so that the school must start all over again with another novice teacher.
- As a personal note, I now have more teaching experience than most of my region’s MTLD. This is bizarre.
As a counter, the alternative certification program I went through provided for me a mentor teacher who had decades of experience as a classroom teacher in a variety of age and content areas, plus years of experience serving in this capacity as a mentor. Her visits were essential to turning my first year around. She came to my freshman resource Algebra class which was a mess and accomplishing nothing and scheduled follow-ups and gave me specific things to work on each time that really made a difference for me. Now, I think anyone could have walked in and seen that my classroom had problems. But it is my view that the steadying influence of a truly experienced educator is better able to prioritize problems and prescribe solutions appropriate for the situation. Se didn’t ask me about a Big Goal or data trackers; she could tell by my classroom practices that my kids weren’t learning very much. So she addressed those problems first. To this day, I have not mastered those issues, but I have the skills now to get through each class period without being derailed by disruptions.
I wish that TFA would make a greater effort to hire experienced voices outside of its own organization and allow its teachers many years to flourish at their campuses rather than pick them for other fields before they’re ripe. This isn’t to say that TFA’s staff is not talented, just that its effectiveness will be limited by the homogeneity of teaching experiences they collectively share.
(1) Cue hearty guffaws from knowing minds.
(2) Abbreviation for “Managers of Teaching, Leadership, and Development” which sounds less like a school-oriented position and more like corporate middle management.
(3) Yay for sense of community! Boo for incongruous content/age grouping!
(4) The bulk of which are MTLD and Corps Member Advisors (CMA), the coaches at TFA’s summer training institute.
(5) I say “struggles” based on the assumption that TFA is actively trying to get teachers to stay long-term. This is a very generous assumption, I realize.
(6) I.e. TFA staff, law school, starting your own charter school. You know, the things every two-year “veteran teacher” thinks about.